Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Last Dragon, by J.M. McDermott

About three weeks ago I was perusing the new posts on Absolute Write when I stumbled across a thread that said the first fifteen people to email the poster would win a copy of J.M. McDermott's Last Dragon. Always a fan of contests, I quickly emailed the author. Five minutes later I discovered that someone else has "bumped" the thread (meaning they posted on an older, outdated thread) and the contest was now over.

Color me embarrassed, especially when the author -- Mr. McDermott, who I don't know -- emailed me back, also feeling embarrassed. We emailed a few times, and during the course of the conversation I told him how I don't have access to a bookstore or library, and he sent me a pdf of his book. A PDF! Just like that!


He told me I didn't have to write a review -- what if I didn't like it? Not to fear. While I've never read a fantasy novel (unless you count the Twilight series, which, for the sake of argument, we will not) I truly enjoyed Last Dragon.

Now, I don't consider myself much of a reviewer, so please bear with me.

Here's the blurb:

An intricate web of stories weave together to tell a tale of revenge, justice, ambition, and power. Zhan has been sent to find her grandfather, a man accused of killing not only Zhan's family, but every man, woman, and child in their village. What she finds is a shell of a man, and a web of deceit that will test the very foundations of a world she thought she understood.

A tale of revenge that grows into something more, Last Dragon is a literary fantasy novel in the tradition of Gene Wolfe and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. J.M. McDermott brings the fantasy genre to new literary heights with a remarkable first novel that will leave critics and readers alike in stunned awe.


Here's what I think:

McDermott's world feels familiar enough that me, a novice fantasy reader, didn't feel lost. Zahn's country, Alameda, seems a lot like Michigan or Canada, albeit more extreme. The traditions and beliefs of Zahn's people revolve around Alastair, their goddess, and Zahn must learn to follow people with differing beliefs if she wants their help.

Adel and Fest, the man and woman who help her find her grandfather, are from two vastly different parts of the world and each open Zahn's eyes to a part of humanity that she never knew existed. Namely, that of the dragon, the dragonslayers, and the paladins -- those who've vowed to give their lives defending the dragon. Throughout the story, Zahn encounters gypsies, fire-breathing shamans, steel-toothed mercenaries, and an army of second-born children whose lives are devoted to defending their country.

The story itself is written as a series of letters from Zahn to Esumi. The sequence of events jumps around a lot, and I read a couple reviews that criticized this structure, but I think McDermott handles the technique wonderfully. I admit I did re-read a couple times, but it didn't take long for me to fall into the rhythm of his storytelling. The details unfold in such a way that even when he jumps ahead, you know the nugget that explains what's going on is just ahead, waiting for you to uncover it.

As a writer, I can't imagine how intricate the outline must have been for this novel. World-building is something I've never spent much time considering, but McDermott clearly knows what he's doing.



I'm sorry if this review is all over the place, but these were the things that most struck me. If you've never read fantasy, this is a good book to test the waters with, and if you're already a fan, go out and add this to your collection!

And in an effort to prevent future dilemmas like mine, an ebook will be available next week here.

14 comments:

Pink Ink said...

Cool for you! And what a cover. Those "things" on his neck...

Turkey Lurkey said...

Wow, that seems like a very good book to pick up. Thanks for sharing this.

Melanie Avila said...

Pink, I know... creepy, right?

Melanie Avila said...

Turkey, I can't believe I forgot to mention -- there's a golem, too!

Nadine said...

Sounds like a great book! And a great author for sending you the PDF!!

EriCan said...

That's a great way to get a book! I agree the cover is graphic, but cool. Sounds like an interesting story!


Oh this is emc07- I changed my profile name:)

Melanie Avila said...

Nadine, I know! I was surprised by his offer, and I thought it was very generous of him. But -- it's a great way to get a new fan. :)

Melanie Avila said...

Hey Erica, I guessed that was you. :P

It was weird, since I read it on my computer I didn't have the cover to look at, which is something I do a lot when I'm reading a book. I don't know if this electronic thing is for me...

Travis Erwin said...

Cool. I think my wife would love this one.

Robin said...

That's a great story! I like the way you ended up getting the book. I happen to love fantasy, so I'm going to Kindle it ASAP because of your review. See how influential you are?

Melanie Avila said...

Travis, great!

Melanie Avila said...

Robin, you're the best! Be sure to let me know what you think. :)

EriCan said...

Yeah. I like to look at the covers too. I'm not too keen on reading on a computer, since I have to do that all day at work. However, if it was a good enough book; it wouldn't matter :)

Melanie Avila said...

Erica, it took me twice as long as normal to read this because it was on the computer. I hate sitting here longer than I have to.